Adaptive online education pioneer Brandon Busteed talks about the state of virtual and hybrid learning — and where it’s headed.
President, Kaplan University Partners
The global pandemic drove an incredible rise in awareness of online education, which is expected to be a $1 trillion market by 2027. Few people know that world better than Brandon Busteed, a pioneer in the field and currently chief partnership officer and global head of learn-work innovation at Kaplan. He recently sat down to discuss the future of online education.
What are the three biggest benefits of online learning?
Flexibility and convenience. Online degrees have been a pathway for many more Americans to get a college education who otherwise didn’t have the option. But as a result of the pandemic, we’re starting to realize that hybridity is becoming the new norm. You have kids who are sick for the week or may have to travel, and instead of missing class, they can join remotely.
For students that don’t like to speak up in class or are shy and aren’t good at asking questions, having a modality where they can message the teacher or faculty member while they’re in the classroom is important. And virtual teacher hours are another great example —in-person office hours are hugely underutilized. If you can pop in virtually or do an instant message chat with them, you increase the connectivity.
What’s the biggest challenge in the industry?
The pandemic has been a double-edged sword. The whole world got exposed to online learning and acceptance of it skyrocketed. But many experienced online education in a subpar fashion. That continues to be the big challenge — there’s a huge variety of quality with online degrees and courses. How do you, as an individual student or a parent, suss out the really high-quality stuff versus the stuff that’s just kind of slapped together?
What’s the most common challenge students face pursuing an online education?
Balancing time against other life and work priorities. Most people pursuing fully online education are working, they’re parents, or they have a full-time job. It’s mostly about how they juggle their time, how flexible the program and curriculum are. It’s about to what degree they got prior learning credits for, work that they’ve already done, or opportunities to accelerate by doing competency-based models.
That’s where support systems come into play. The best online programs and universities are taking down the resistance points for students and adding non-academic support services.
What does the future of online education look like?
It’s going to be increasingly more human. There’s going to be an increasing number of human touchpoints that are part of the experience. That could be brief mentoring, advising sessions, or students connecting with a real human being on Zoom, FaceTime, or whatever the modality is.
It’s also going to be a driver of lowering the cost of higher education. You’re starting to see universities that are now price-differentiating their online programs from their residential programs and lowering the cost of effectively the same degree. We’re in the early days of that, but ultimately we’re going to start to see online education driving down the cost of higher education.